First Web Standards Meetup, Singapore

The first Web Standards meeting in Singapore took place this evening at Raffles Girls’ School. The turnout wasn’t large, but new friendships were made, and I could now put human faces to personalities I’d been conversing with online, for years.
Lucian began by giving an introduction to web standards, recalling the good old browser war days.
Lucian also elaborated on the aims of the Web Standards Group here in Singapore. We will promote the use of web standards in Singapore. The group comprises people from Education, Private and Public sectors. We will share technical know-how with each other, and help to spread the word.
Next, Coleman gave a presentation titled “How to bluff your way through web accessibility”. However I don’t think he was bluffing us very much in the end 😉
He noted that in the physical world, there is legislation – such as the Building Control Act 1989 in Singapore – which ensures that the disabled can move around in buildings.
On the web, however, the disabled still have problems accessing information. Coleman showed a video of a visually disabled person using a screen reader. They take a longer time to receive information aurally. They can’t use devices like mice because they don’t know where to point to. Label your images so that these users can at least know what they are.
Coleman gave a good analogy about the importance of standards. What if, for instance, you tried to watch a new DVD, only to discover that it won’t play on your screen as it’s not big and new enough? (An allusion to websites that can only be viewed in certain resolutions using certain browsers, etc)
He introduced the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and its different checkpoints, as well as Section 508 which requires Federal agencies to have accessible websites.
Lucian and a few others also noted that the Dutch government just made accessibility mandatory for their websites as well. I think the private sector worldwide will take a longer time to catch on, as most have yet to see the business value of web standards. Oh well, there’s never been a better time to ‘Go Dutch’!
Our third and final presenter, Nick Pan, showed Natalie Jost’s diagram, illustrating the separation of markup, presentation and behaviour.
He explained how using web standards will allow programmers and designers to work concurrently, as opposed to waiting for each other to complete their work, save the files and pass it to the next person in the production line.
He demonstrated how CSS lists were used in one of his projects, which had a multiple-tiered navigation bar.
Russ Weakley, the guy who created the very useful Listamatic, will be in Singapore to give a CSS workshop. More details over at Pebbleroad.
So far, I’ve heard two types of very contrasting reactions about this full-day workshop. It’s priced at S$350 (that’s US$230 going by an exchange rate of 1.55) but the reactions I’ve received so far go along the lines of “So expensive!” or “So worth it!”.
I know $350 is a lot of money to some people, especially if you’re in a small company or a freelancer. Pitching web standards when everyone else at work is concerned about the bottomline and whether it will cost more time and money to implement, is difficult but not impossible if you know how to put across its benefits from the viewpoint of your bosses. Easier said than done, isn’t it!
I worked as a web designer for the first 4 years of my career. I’ve since become the client, and web coding is no longer a key part of my job. Project management and new media innovation/development, is. Still, I hope to work with designers who practice web standards, because knowing that there are nested tables, spacer gifs, font tags and other bloated code in there somewhere, makes me feel uneasy.
At least I can now go to SXSW this year, look Jeffrey Zeldman in the face, and tell him that we have finally done something about Web Standards in Singapore.
[Update: We’ll keep a list of everyone’s accounts of the events, on WebSG, so head over there. Join our mailing list! ]
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